Polenta Lemon Buttermilk Cake

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Every girl needs a train set

Two years. Two sisters. Two cakes.

Two pairs of little hands to get stuck into my mixing bowls.

Every year, when trying to figure out what to make, I remind myself about rule number one of birthday cakes: kids don’t care about eating the cake, it just needs lots of colour and some candles on top. Every year – twice a year – I disregard my own advice. I can never resist making a cake that the adults will enjoy after all the icing and edible glitter has been picked off.

For the Small Girl’s birthday last weekend, I decided on a polenta and buttermilk cake, adding a little lemon zest to lift the flavour – and then challenged the small girls’ tastebuds with a zippy lemon glacé icing. I had lots of help, two be-aproned small figures standing on stools so they could reach the counter, little fingers dipping into the bowl at regular intervals, Mammy having to reset the digital scales regularly to re-measure ingredients that had been tasted too much.

Seeing as the oh-so-helpful girls ate the sweets that I bought to decorate the top of the cake, the end result was a rather minimalist cake for a two-year-old. I don’t think she minded. We ate the original bundt version at the weekend and I made another mini version for her to take to creche earlier this week. We don’t do kids’ parties, yet; that’s her version of a get-together with friends.

And the best thing? After candles were blown out and the girls had run off to play with SG’s new train set, this moist, textured and not-too-sweet cake turned out to be just perfect with a cup of tea.

More help - harvesting beans in the garden

More help – harvesting beans in the garden

Polenta Lemon Buttermilk Cake
I buy polenta or cornmeal in large 1.5kg bags from Mr Bell in Cork’s English Market – plenty for making cornbread, crispy polenta slices or Mincemeat and Polenta Shortbread – and I can also get it in my local health food shop. I used the coarse version to make this cake but would be happy to substitute medium or fine, depending on what you can get your hands on. 

100g polenta
200g plain flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (bread soda)
Pinch of salt
250mls buttermilk
2 eggs
100g dark muscovado sugar
125g caster sugar
125g butter, melted
zest of a lemon (reserve juice for icing)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the icing:
100g icing sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fanbake). Oil the inside of a 25cm bundt tin. Alternatively grease and line the base of a 26cm round tin.

Place the polenta, flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a medium bowl and whisk together.

In a large bowl, whisk the buttermilk, eggs and sugars together. Add the melted butter, lemon zest and vanilla and mix again.  Tip the dry ingredients in and combine with a wooden spoon.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes or until the cake is well risen, firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Allow to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before turning out and cooling on a wire rack.

Mix the icing sugar and lemon juice together to make a thin icing. Spread it on the cooled cake.



Food writer. Broadcaster. Blogger. Author. Married to Eight Degrees Brewing. Member of the Irish Food Writers' Guild, founder of Irish Food Bloggers Association and co-author of Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer & Cider (New Island)

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2 Responses

  1. Vicky says:

    This sounds delicious, looking forward to trying it. Like the train set prop too 🙂

    • Caroline Caroline says:

      I love the kind of cakes that are good humoured enough to put up with lots of tasting and overmixing from small helpers – and still turn out well.

      And the prop? The Small Girl nearly lost her life when I borrowed it for a – subsequently very hurried – pic! I’ll take Thomas over Peppa any day.

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